Artist: Eyes of Eli
Album: Ignite EP
Release Date: 02.11.14
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- Rise Up
- My God is a Lion
- Return to Sender
When it comes to the advertising side of the music industry it is common practice to proclaim each and every heavy band’s newest album to be “edgier, cleaner, more brutal, more skillful,” and of course, “harder than ever.” Back in 2012 I reviewed hardcore act Eyes of Eli’s debut release stating that it was equal in weight to A Plea for Purging, For Today, and The Great Commission’s then current albums. I stated that the vocal range was just short of Ryan Clark from Demon Hunter’s and that it moved from some amazing cleans to some truly guttural lows. Fast forward to 2014 and, without sounding too much like an ad guy (I’m not), Eyes of Eli are back with an evolved sound that is edgier, cleaner, more brutal and, yeah, harder than ever. Ignite is an early highlight for the year that brings an amped up brutality and even more refined sound for the band as well as incorporating better production values that really cement it as a standout record.
Ignite is just as heavy lyrically and theologically as it is musically. From the opening choruses of “Rise Up” through the proud proclamation that “My God is a Lion” and through the ending chords of the melodic powerhouse “Rekindle” the band brings a passion and power above the cut. At just five tracks, Ignite may only be a taste, but it is enough of a taste to allow me to confidently state that Eyes of Eli are currently sitting alongside Saving Grace and For Today as having released some of the best hard music of the new year.
Album Breakdown: Ignite starts off with the brutally guttural proclamation of “Rise Up.” Between the patterned and heavy guitars/drums and the truly deep screams, it is immediately clear that Eyes of Eli have leaned into the heavier range of their sound. The message of “Rise Up” may fall into the “Tried and True” category, but the anthemic nature of the lyrics (“Rise up and be restored”) combined with the true skill (and improved production quality) of the instrumentation set the song apart from past jams featuring a similar theme. As with their last album, the Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter) styled clean vocals also make a brief appearance nearer the three minute mark before the track progresses into some gang vocals (with a little Sleeping Giant flair) and even more sheer brutality.
“Voices” continues to barrage the ears with both heavy chords and a heavy message of finding hope/saving grace in Christ alone. “Voices” mixes the clean and guttural throughout and both ranges shine and nicely interplay between one another. Again, the parallel to certain eras of Demon Hunter’s reign come to mind. The message of the competing voices battling for our soul hits the mark. “Will you believe the lies?… or will you run and hide?… You’ll never let go.” The song both reaches out to God for power, strength, and truth and speaks to the lying voices that try to scream over the truth. As the song moves towards its conclusion the voice of God becomes the forefront, leading perfectly into the next track.
“My God is a Lion” clears the “Voices” of deceit immediately and bursts through the haze with the truth of God’s power. The track plays off the brutality that often comes to mind when one thinks of the king of the jungle and amps it up as Eyes of Eli proudly proclaim the resurrected King of Kings. More than any other of the five tracks “My God is a Lion” shows just how far Eyes of Eli have come in their craft. The track masterfully blends some brutal vocals and fittingly aggressive imagery with some real moments of somber reflection though quick melodic flourishes. It is anthemic in nature (“Take your fears, take your doubts… and bury them alive”) yet hits with a real theological punch that shines bright. It is also an evangelistic track in nature. It is not just idly proclaiming the reality of Christ’s life, but challenges the listener to engage this truth with both eyes/ears open. The track ends fittingly with the message, “the fact remains, Jesus saved your life.”
“Return to Sender” has the unenviable job of following such a powerful track, but more than pulls its own weight. Though it is still heavy and brutal, “Return to Sender” wisely changes things up with a more distinct musical pattern and more aggressive drumming on the one hand and a focus on the clean vocals on the other. It follows the message of “My God is a Lion” by proclaiming “You are the way” and continues to lay down truth-filled challenges. Perhaps my favorite challenge is to “pick up your manhood, that you left back on the floor.” However, the heart of the song is a real relationship with God. “Religion is death, return to sender” is the central cry of the song. “This could be our last chance to show them something different. You might be the last hope. It matters how you live… this could be your chance to show them Jesus saves.”
“Rekindle” has a very distinct A Plea for Purging sound about it initially, but progresses into some rather varied places. It is even heavier, faster, and more brutal than what has preceded it and yet it also has one of the best choruses, led by powerful clean vocals. In this, it pulls from the best elements of Plea and Demon Hunter. “Rekindle” manages to reach out to God in humble submission even more than what came before, as well. “Light a fire under me, shine it bright for all. Show me how to let go.” As it moves into the second half of the song, the band moves into a punk/classic hardcore styled worship session that is as gripping and engaging as it is powerful. This eventually gives way to a nice piano solo that helps fade the track out. If that sounds like too many elements in one song, believe me, it is not. Though these many and diverse elements could easily have become a cacophonous buzz of discord in lesser hands, the band dynamically blends them together into a track that has clean and clear movements.
Since this is an EP length there isn’t as much of a distinct progression as there would be on a full LP, however, there is still much more progression and storytelling than most bands put into such albums. Where most EP’s (in the exception of EP’s that are specifically telling one story) are merely a collection of tracks that will likely just end up playing a role in a bigger set-piece, Ignite has a clean beginning, middle, and end. It is a complete experience, and one that I wanted to come back to over and over again.
Musicianship: As I said two years ago, Eyes of Eli are a skillful band. With Ignite the band has smoothed off some rough edges and upped the production values considerably on what was already a pretty solid sound. Each track has its own distinctions while still having a harmonious feel that plays into the whole. The drumming is engaging, the guitars are powerful and varied, and the vocals are great no matter if they are clean and melodic or harsh and guttural.
Lyrics/Spiritual Content: Eyes of Eli bring an experience that is just as fleshed out (or even more so) theologically as it is musically. Though some of the lyrics are standard for the genre, it is their execution and nuance that really sets them apart. With each track you can hear a passion for God’s truth set against an evangelistic urge.
Lasting Value: I mean it when I say this may be one of the best heavy albums of the year so far. Although we are barely two months in to 2014, I would be shocked if this wasn’t on my top ten list at the end of the year.
Overall: Eyes of Eli have come back better than ever. Ignite is more robust, heavier, more distinct, and has better production than their already pretty impressive debut album. Although the EP is just five tracks, each song shines in its own way and yet feeds into the whole in a way that many EPs fail to do. “My God is a Lion” is a hallmark song that stands out and should rightly garner the band some well-deserved attention, but there is not a single “lesser” track to be found on the album. Eyes of Eli has come out swinging with their sophomore effort. Whatever time it takes for the boys to get a full length album out to follow this is simply too long to wait.
RIYL: A Plea for Purging, Demon Hunter, The Great Commission